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Comerford fills Cluxton boots but is there life after Murphy?


FINEST HOUR: Evan Comerford of Dublin saves a shot on goal by Peadar Mogan of Donegal. Pic: Sportsfile

FINEST HOUR: Evan Comerford of Dublin saves a shot on goal by Peadar Mogan of Donegal. Pic: Sportsfile

FINEST HOUR: Evan Comerford of Dublin saves a shot on goal by Peadar Mogan of Donegal. Pic: Sportsfile

It's a question asked so many times, seemingly always with the same answer: how do Dublin even try to fill the giant boots of Stephen Cluxton?

Saturday night offered a glimpse into the future, and it's not as bleak as the pessimists would have you think.

This was Evan Comerford's finest hour in senior combat. One or two early kickout issues aside, he was - the ultimate compliment - almost Cluxtonesque.

For very different reasons, a similar question involving another iconic skipper sprung to mind after this absorbing spring collision of champions and pretenders. What in heaven's name will Donegal do whenever Michael Murphy hauls his giant frame into retirement?

This was, in so many ways, a typical Murphy show - full of spiky intent and unfussy genius.

It started and finished with yellow cards. His opening contribution - an attempted shoulder that landed on the head of David Byrne - had echoes of Richie Hogan's sending-off offence in last year's All-Ireland hurling final.

If it was another referee or if it had happened later in the game, he might have seen red given the annual league clampdown on head-high tackles.

Instead, Murphy grew into contest quite magnificently.

Soft Hands

He coaxed John Small into a jersey tug that led to a Ciarán Thompson free. Then his soft hands released Hugh McFadden for Donegal's sixth-minute goal.

Murphy's ability to get out in front of his constant shadow, Small, was rewarded with a converted mark. All very routine.

Not so what followed: a stunning example of that telepathic combination between Shaun Patton (with a monstrous kickout), the soaring Murphy (with the deftest of knock-downs) and Ryan McHugh (scampering through on goal).

What followed, though, offered thrilling evidence that Comerford, too, was in the zone.

After a one-two with Jamie Brennan, McHugh pulled the trigger only to find the Dublin 'keeper had sprung sharply off his line to save. Brennan's follow-up point offered solace at the time - but what if Donegal had claimed a second goal then?

Shortly before the half ended, off the ball but on camera, Small could be seen pulling his man to the ground. Murphy's protestations fell on deaf ears.

And on it went in the second half: Murphy out in front to set up Thompson; Comerford out quickly to block Peadar Mogan (at the eventual expense of a point); a brilliant Murphy point after linking with his partner-in-pillage, McHugh, in the tightest of corners; a commanding flick away from danger by the Dublin netminder under aerial bombardment; another super-slick Murphy point as he turned away from Small.

Yet the game's key intervention came from Comerford.

It looked goal all over as three Donegal men raced through but, three passes later, he sprung like a coil to repel Paddy McBrearty's point-blank howitzer. An injury hold-up suggested he may have partially saved with his head. Bravery and brilliance in one.

Soon after, with Dublin now ahead after Paul Mannion's goal, Murphy showed his defiance with an outrageous mark from the next kick-out. A free resulted when Dublin failed to retreat; from 46 metres, Murphy made it look like a three-foot putt.

But his night ended in acrimony, grappling with Small after McBrearty had made it a one-point game, then knocked to the ground after Brian Howard joined the fray.


The predictable two yellows each led to red for Murphy and Small. One of the latter's few victories on a fraught night.

Declan Bonner kept his counsel when asked about Murphy's 'treatment' on the night. "There's plenty of officials there to deal with it, so we'll let them get on with it," he said.

As for Comerford, he should have several more league outings to prove that there's life after Cluxton, even as the Dublin legend rehabs his shoulder injury with an eye on summer.

"We don't know his time frame at the minute, but we're not in any hurry to rush him back," said Dessie Farrell. "Players are anxious to get back themselves but the approach we're taking is that everyone needs to be 100 percent, so we're not taking any chances."

Right now, taking a chance on his deputy is no risk at all.